I have a confession to make. I’m a sucker for cool technology. If it’s new and different and meets a need I didn’t even know I had, even better. I don’t have an Apple watch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t drool over them a little.
So when I spotted the Amazon Dash Button I had to delve deeper.
So what is it? To be honest, when I noticed it advertised on my Amazon home page I figured it was a web browser add-on, a little menu bar button that allowed super quick ordering maybe? What caught my attention was the phrase ‘usually ships in 3-5 weeks’. What is this? A novelty like the Staples Easy Button?
No, no and no! This button is way cooler than that. Here’s the description from Amazon:
Amazon Dash Button is a Wi-Fi connected device that reorders your favorite product with the press of a button. Each Dash Button is paired with a product of your choice, which is selected during the set-up process.
Free after first press. Buy Dash Button for $4.99 and receive a $4.99 credit after your first press.
Easy to use. Press Dash Button to order your favorite products.
Buy with confidence. Get the same low prices we offer on Amazon.com.
Never run out. Stock up on your favorite products with Dash Button.
Order Protection. Ensures Dash Button responds only to your first press until your order is delivered.
Prime members get free shipping
Oh, that is beyond cool! You mean I can have a button in my laundry closet to press when I am running out of detergent? One in the bathroom for toilet paper? One in the kitchen drawer for Ziplock bags? I can then find these products on my doorstep two days later?
I can buy this stuff without even thinking about it?
Of course I can and it’s brilliant marketing. What big company wouldn’t want to absorb the cost of a ‘button’ that allows a customer to be tied into their product. A button that removes all need to go to a store – online or brick and mortar – where they can be tempted by alternative brands and other prices. And it’s so damn cool!
The Amazon Button really is the ultimate in easy spending. It’s a pinnacle of technology making it simple for us to be parted from our hard earned dollars, and all in the name of ultra-convenience. I can purchase goods without a second thought. Completely without intention. It takes all decision making out of my hands.
It’s not alone though. If we look around us at many other conveniences in our lives, we can see quite quickly how easy it has become to spend without intention
The transaction component of a purchase that was once carried out by the transfer of cash or a check is now even simpler than the swipe of a credit card. We can wave a contactless credit card over a sensor. We can flash an Apple Watch or iPhone to use Apple Pay. We can buy coffee with our auto-reloaded Starbucks card on our phones. All of these convenient and speedy solutions serve to make spending unintentional. The transaction is done in the blink of an eye and without any particular consideration of money spent.
We can find this unintentional and convenient spending hiding in other areas too. Every online store we shop at wants to save our credit card information when we make a purchase. It’s very simple then on our next visit to that store to check out in seconds using that stored information. Subscriptions work the same way. Whether it is magazine subscriptions, wine clubs, gym memberships or Netflix. Once we sign up the expense is recurring but unseen. We don’t have to particularly think about whether we really want to continue the service we signed up for, it’s just there, every month and every year.
These are all example of how effortless it is to spend without intention. I have nothing against the convenience factor, but that usually goes hand in hand with the lack of mindfulness about the transaction.
So, is this a problem?
Let’s go back a couple of years in the life of Mr. and Mrs. PIE. As we have detailed before, we were never bad at saving and never carried significant debt beyond car payments and a mortgage. However, we weren’t bad at spending either. And by spending I mean spending without mindfulness. While we were in no way living paycheck to paycheck, we were frequently surprised by how large our monthly credit card bills were, and often juggled the payment date with to sit nicely with paychecks coming in and other large expenses going out.
Then, we finally realized that life could be different, and if we desired Financial Independence we had to have a goal. We needed to increase our savings by reigning in our monthly expenses. The first step towards this was to understand our expenses. This is true for anyone that wants to have some control over their money. Whether it is in paying down debt, planning for the future, or simply a desire not to waste money. Everyone should really know where their money goes.
There are so many wonderful tools out there for tracking expenses. We like to use Mint, I know many others like to use the transactions feature in Personal Capital. We started out using the tracker provided by Bank of America – which was surprisingly powerful. Each of these tools can categorize your spend in any number of ways and quickly reveal not just your largest areas of spend, but the smaller more ‘one off’ expenses too.
That’s step one, understanding what you spend. Step two is figuring out how to make changes to reduce expenses.
This seemingly daunting task was simplified for us by listening to this podcast from the remarkable Mad Fientist and the incomparable J. Money of Budgets are $exy. Here J. Money details how he ‘challenges everything’ when it comes to expenses. Nothing goes unchallenged, from the largest to smallest expense. Is the expense necessary? Can it be cut or eliminated? We applied this approach to our own spending, starting with some of our larger expenses and then delving into smaller items. Reducing spend in larger areas was relatively simple, groceries and restaurants were an easy win. What fascinated me were the smaller items of spend that crept in. The real meat and bones of spending without intention. These are more often than not, recurring monthly or annual expenses. Each of these items has been assessed with the ‘Challenge Everything’ mindset. Many got cut outright; others were left in place knowing that they had value. What comes from this is not just savings, but knowledge. We have made a mindful decision to spend money on certain things and not others.
I present to you a working list of Challenged Expenses from Mr. and Mrs. PIE. This doesn’t cover everything we’ve challenged and altered – merely a snapshot of our thought processes and things we’ve changed (warning, Mr. PIE’s love of tables is rubbing off on me!)
*Here’s a link to FitStar. It’s a referral link which means if you try it out you get a free month and so do I. Don’t feel obliged, but if you do you can feel good that you are helping to keep Mrs. PIE in shape!
In case you got table fatigue let me reiterate the figure in that last table: a saving of $1,685 a month!
One line item not included here is travel and vacation. We have undoubtedly changed our approach here. Where once we may have had two or even three expensive vacations a year, we have mindfully chosen to cut back on this in favor of using our vacation home more. In addition, we are now actively ‘travel hacking’ to reduce our out of pocket expenses further. As these are such one-off expenses I’m not able to capture these changes as a dollar value yet. Stay tuned, this will be the subject of an upcoming post.
The important take away here is not only the reduction in monthly and annual expenses; it’s the changed mindset that we now have that challenges everything on a day to day basis. Whether it’s questioning the brand of laundry detergent we use when a cheaper alternative is available, or choosing to make coffee at home instead of visiting Starbucks. Each transaction, whether slick and technologically enabled, or by old fashioned check writing, is now a mindful purchase.
Not so long ago, I confess I would have been sucked into ordering a couple of Amazon Buttons. Maybe more. Who wouldn’t want to live with the future of technology in their homes? Today however, I see what the end result of this effortless spending can be. When the convenience of technology removes our ability to see what we spend our money on and why, we can only lose. Intentional and mindful spending is a necessity to make our plans and dreams become reality.
Have you challenged your expenses? Where do you spend easy and unintentionally?